Several California-Pacific Conference congregations provide items and donations in support of Sherman Indian High School. The director, Lorene Sisquoc, put out a call for school supplies, comforters, snacks, and beach towels. According to Revered Gregory Douglass, Pastor of Native American United Methodist Church (Anaheim, CA), approximately 100 backpacks were gathered, along with beach towels, a mountain of school supplies, and twin XL comforters. Additional financial support was provided and will be used to purchase incentive gift cards. At the time of this story, $520.00 in cards have been purchased.
Sherman Indian High School is 1 of 4 boarding schools still operated by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and the Bureau of Indian Education. According to Pastor Douglass, “Years ago, these boarding schools were mainly designed to remove children from their homes and tribal communities, removing their language and culture, and providing them with training in mainly industrial occupations. The first of these schools was Carlisle Indian Industrial School, Carlisle, Pennsylvania, under the direction of General Richard Henry Pratt.” It is well documented that his motto was “Kill the Indian: Save the man.” General Pratt was born December 6, 1840, in Rushford, New York and died April 23, 1924, at the Presidio of San Francisco, San Francisco, California.
Though some of these schools have been turned into historic landmarks and others into Tribal Schools, the 4 that remain, Sherman IHS included, now seek to offer a reversal of those early processes of forced assimilation. Pastor Douglass adds, “…the schools now seek to include and help recover culture and tradition.” Sherman IHS originally opened in 1892 as the Perris Indian School, in Perris, California, the school was relocated to Riverside, California, in 1903, under the name Sherman Institute. it became known as Sherman Indian High School in 1971 after gaining accreditation by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges in 1971.
Pastor Douglass, who also serves as Chair of Cal-Pac Native American Ministry Committee, offers a rich understanding of the complexities and possibilities that can come from Christian churches connecting with and supporting Sherman IHS. He shares:
“While the teachers and staff at Sherman IHS seek to offer the best education possible, the life for many students is still not easy, often being hundreds if not thousands of miles away from home. Since the school is under federal guidelines and regulations, with students from all over […] the United States, life on campus can be a mix of new acquaintances, isolation, participation, and regulation. Though bedding is provided, as well as towels, these items are often more industrial than many of us are used to. Most of us are free to come and go as we please, but the Boarding School entrance and exit from campus are guarded. The gathering of school supplies, comforters, beach towels, and snacks is to help the students not only feel more comfortable, more like home but to let them know that someone cares. A simple example of this is the beach towels. If a field trip is arranged, assigned towels are not allowed off campus. The beach towels provided by Cal-Pac churches and others are allowed off campus as these are “given” to the students. We often hear that these become the students preferred everyday towel.”
The original plan was to resume on-campus instruction and lodging on August 20. However, due to current federal guidelines regarding COVID concerns, this has been put on hold. Ms. Lorene Sisquoc and School staff, are now preparing provided backpacks with school supplies, beach towels, and other donated items, to be shipped to students at their homes. This will not only help keep connections with students but often provide them with supplies and personal items they do not have at home. The incentive gift cards will be used by teachers and staff to encourage students in their work and again let them know someone cares. “The church has not always been seen in a caring light, so it is with many thanks that the Cal-Pac Native American Ministries Committee offers to our partner churches, and many thanks are passed on from the staff at Sherman Indian High School, and its students” according to Pastor Douglass.
The volunteers provided what they hope is a comprehensive list of churches that participated in the 2021 gathering of supplies for Sherman Indian High School: Aldersgate UMC, Tustin; Belmont Heights UMC, Long Beach; Cal Heights UMC, Long Beach; Cornerstone UMC, Placentia; Grace UMC, Riverside; Highgrove UMC, Riverside; Inglewood UMC, Inglewood; La Cañada UMC, La Cañada; Laguna Country UMC, Laguna Woods; La Habra UMC, La Habra; La Puente UMC, La Puente; Moreno Valley UMC, Moreno Valley; Native American UMC, Anaheim; Ontario UMC, Ontario; Riverside First UMC, Riverside; Santa Monica UMC, Santa Monica; Simi Valley UMC, Simi Valley; Temecula UMC, Temecula, and West L.A. UMC, Los Angeles. We also had support from Moose Lodge #1853, Anaheim, CA; The Hooker Family, Pittsburgh, PA; plus, countless individuals from the churches already listed.
There are multiple ways congregations and individuals can learn more and support this and other work with Native peoples: 1) On September 14, 2021, 5 p.m. California (2 p.m. Hawaii; September 15, 10 a.m. Guam & Saipan) “Toward Right Relationships With Native Peoples, Friends Church,” will be offering an online event regarding Boarding Schools and Multigenerational Trauma. Information can be found at friendspeaceteams.org/upcoming-events/. 2) You can also find Toward Right Relationships Facilitator, Suanne Ware-Diaz, Cal-Pac member, at friendspeaceteams.org/meet-trr-facilitator-suanne-ware-diaz/ as she shares her own story, 3) Contact Rev. Gregory Douglass and connect with local programming and educational events, and 4) Consider volunteering to serve on the Cal-Pac Native American Ministries Committee.